This special section explores the various ways in which states of certainty and doubt are generated and sustained, focusing on what we call the ‘infrastructures’ that undergird, enable or develop alongside them. The articles in this collection build on the growing literature on these topics, notably the very extensive recent work on doubt, uncertainty and opacity, and they extend it further by directing attention not to the consequences of these states or people’s responses to them, but instead to the various semiotic, material and social forms that make possible the assertion or recognition of certainty or doubt. We use the idea of ‘infrastructure’ as a heuristic device to explore these processes.
Infrastructures of Certainty and Doubt
Matthew Carey and Morten Axel Pedersen
Kathleen Frazer Oswald
Th is article argues that smart transportation—understood as convergences of communication and transportation infrastructure to facilitate movement—has long been manifested in what John Urry has described as nexus systems, or those that require many elements to work synchronously.1 Understanding smart infrastructures as those aligning with twenty-first-century sensibilities concerning technology, convenience, safety, and security, I demonstrate a longer trajectory for this seemingly new trend in three cases: (1) the synchronization of the train with the telegraph, (2) the organization of early automobility, and (3) information-rich/connected automobility and the driverless car. Rethinking smart infrastructure historically reveals a long-existing tendency rather than a new one to manage movement via communication technologies.
Das Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein?
This special issue approaches the interrelated themes of mobility and infrastructure in the Russian Arctic. I will discuss the general topics covered in this set of articles and how these contributions help us understand the lives of people in northern Siberia today, and I will give some context on how these articles came about in the first place. Does being determine consciousness? Or does consciousness determine being? This special issue looks at the complex interplay between people’s perception of well-being and behavior, and their understanding and discourse around infrastructure. Several case studies examine the tension between perception, mobility, and infrastructure in communities across the Russian Arctic.
Infrastructure and Ignorance in Peri-urban Ulaanbaatar
Morten Axel Pedersen
In a neglected corner of peri-urban Ulaanbaatar’s sprawling post-socialist slums, the livelihood of dozens of households has over recent years been affected by a large infrastructure project that will never be built. ‘Power Plant #5’ was originally tendered to a Chinese construction firm in 2008 as part of a national strategy to develop Mongolia’s energy production to meet new needs. Taking its departure in the story of a poverty-stricken woman long employed as a caretaker by a mysterious organization allegedly in charge of Power Plant #5, this article explores the peculiar dynamics by which lacking knowledge about this and other infrastructural projects in contemporary Mongolia feeds into dispossessed people’s dreams about and plans for the future. Indeed, it suggests that ignorance itself may be conceived of as an infrastructure in its own right, insofar as it constitutes a ground from which certainty as well as uncertainty emerge.
Policy on transport infrastructure in Germany will come under increasing pressure thanks to considerable changes in basic conditions. Demographic change, shifts in economic and regional structures, continued social individualization, and the chronic budget crisis in the public sphere are forcing a readjustment of government action. At root, the impact of the changes in demographics and economic structures touches on what Germans themselves think their postwar democracy stands for. Highly consensual underlying assumptions about Germany as a model are being shaken. The doctrine that development of infrastructure is tantamount to growth and prosperity no longer holds. The experience in eastern Germany shows that more and better infrastructure does not automatically lead to more growth. Moreover, uniform government regulation is hitting limits. If the differences between boom regions and depopulated zones remain as large as they are, then it makes no sense to have the same regulatory maze apply to both cases. In transportation policy, that shift would mean recasting the legal foundations of public transport.
Documents, Infrastructure and Political Experimentation in Highland Peru
This article tracks the political effects of documents produced in relation to a public infrastructure project in the Peruvian Andes. By contrast with the recent focus on bureaucratic documents as aesthetic artefacts and instances of institutional form, I attend to the political processes enacted through project papers, exploring how their relational, material, affective and referential dimensions opened up spaces of political experimentation. In particular, I suggest that the power of documents to mediate the regulatory ambiguities incurred by Peru's ongoing decentralization lies partly in their capacity to espouse normative formality whilst always hinting at the possibility of its undoing.
Drawing upon ethnographic data, this article investigates the effects of a new online campus management system in one of the largest universities in Germany. It shows the various ways in which this technological innovation influenced students', teachers' and administrative personnel's relations and everyday working practices and how it is influential in the reorganisation of university structures. The online management system is regarded as an important part of an emerging infrastructure of excellence, which materialises the changing understanding of qualitative studies and teaching. Findings show that the online management supports standardised and economised study, teaching and administrative practices and silences creativity and flexibility. However, these standardisations are negotiated and questioned by the actors involved.
In this article I will explore the correlation between the discourse of youths’ out-migration and their attitudes toward the infrastructure of Tilichiki, a small town in Kamchatka. I attempt to contest the perspective that out-migration (resulting in town depopulation) is caused by the perception of social infrastructure as insufficient. The analysis of local discourse shows that negative or positive descriptions of infrastructure, social services and life conditions in the town in general depend on whether the person has plans of leaving the town. This correlation is supported by temporal dimension of one’s life project: the duration of speakers’ residence in the town or the amount of time that they are planning to spend there.
Roads to Certainty in Two Brazilian Religions
This article compares the ways in which two different religions in Brazil generate roads to certainty through objectification, one through gods, the other through banknotes. The Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé provides a road to certainty based on cosmological ideas about gods whose presence in ritual is made indubitable through performance and social consensus. Candomblé has historically gained its spiritual force by being both marginal to mainstream religion and spatially peripheral. In contrast, the Neo- Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is located in easily accessible places within urban life. There is a certain parallel between these different locations and the difference in ritual roads to certainty in the two religions. The article draws out connections between different levels of infrastructure – material, spatial and ritual. The comparison between the two religions points to a social imaginary that in both cases has to do with how to deal with indeterminacies in life through objectification.
Infrastructural Transformations in the Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand
Atsuro Morita and Casper Bruun Jensen
In this article, we explore a contrast between terrestrial and amphibious ways of imagining and intervening in deltas, which have given rise to contrasting delta ontologies. Whereas the former originated in Europe and focused on removing water for agriculture, the latter conceived of deltas as extending water flows. In Thailand’s Chao Phraya Delta these incongruent approaches have inspired very different forms of infrastructural development over the last century. Examining the entwined histories of agency of people—engineers, scientists, traders, and kingdoms—and non-humans, such as canals, dikes, and landscapes, we trace how the delta’s ontology was transformed by the gradual layering of partly incompatible infrastructures. In light of increasing floods, the continued sustainability of Bangkok may now depend on amphibious infrastructures lying half-forgotten within this ontological palimpsest.